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Secular Intolerance: France Announces Ban on Muslims Wearing Abayas in Schools

In a move that has sparked controversy and raised questions about religious freedom, the French government has declared a ban on Muslim female students wearing abayas in state-run schools. The announcement comes as part of France’s commitment to its radical secular laws surrounding education, known as “Laïcité.”

Education Minister Gabriel Attal made the announcement, stating that starting from September 4th, students across the country will be prohibited from wearing Abayas in schools. He emphasized that this decision is in line with France’s unwavering commitment to “Secularism” and its firm stance against any religious symbols or attire in public educational institutions.

“Laïcité,” or secularism, is a foundational principle in French society, aimed at ensuring the separation of religion from the state and maintaining a strict secular public sphere. France has enforced stringent restrictions on religious symbols in government-funded schools since the 19th century, with laws prohibiting religious attire, including headscarves, full-face veils, and other religious symbols.

In 1989, the initial debate marked Islam’s first direct encounter with French laïcité. The court’s decision allowed schools to prohibit the hijab, leading to around 100 Muslim students being expelled from 1994 to 2003.

In 2004, France implemented a law prohibiting students from displaying religious symbols or attire in schools, which encompassed items like prominent crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves. Later, in 2010, France extended these restrictions by introducing a ban on wearing full-face veils in public spaces

This latest move by the French government to ban Muslim students from wearing Abayas has once again raised concerns about the rising Islamophobia and “secular intolerance” towards Islam in particular.

Over the years Islamophobia in French society, other than its colonial legacy, has manifested in various forms, including verbal abuse, physical attacks, discrimination against Muslims in workplaces, and vandalism of mosques and Muslim-owned businesses. Anti-Muslim sentiments have been fueled by political discourse, media coverage, and extremist incidents. This announcement has rekindled the debate on religious freedom in France, with concerns raised about the potential impact on Muslim students and their ability to freely practice their religion while pursuing an education.

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